Come to the Cabaret, Old Chum
And to chamber, jazz and Motown
by Brett Campbell
When the rock and roll tsunami swept across the planet in the 1950s and ’60s, its unprecedented vitality washed away many older styles of popular music. Today, bands whose members weren’t even born during the heyday of chanson, cabaret and other European and Latin pre-rock music are reviving and reinvigorating (often with a dose of rock or other contemporary sounds) those older forms.
One of the most prominent neo-cabaret revivalists, Vagabond Opera, hails from Portland, where frontman/singer/accordionist Eric Stern, an operatically trained tenor, settled a few years ago and where VO has earned a rep as one of the city’s most fun and fascinating bands; it’s even touring nationally and internationally. Combining Hot Club of Paris-style swing, fire eating, Ukrainian ballads, hula hoops, klezmer, costumes, saxophone, belly dancers, tangos, cello, opera arias in 11 languages and more, VO is a visual as well as musical treat. The band’s Nov. 13 show at the WOW Hall also features another of Portland’s favorite party bands, Chervona, whose neo-cabaret sound leans toward the carnivalesque and to the east, featuring Balkan, Russian, Ukrainian, klezmer and other eastern European musical traditions.
Some adventurous composers in early 20th century Paris, especially the legendary young rebels known as Les Six (Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud and other admirers of older composer Erik Satie), bored by classical music’s elitism, abstraction and detachment from contemporary culture (sound familiar?) embraced the vitality of street sounds, and so the city’s bohemian cabarets became bountiful wellsprings of popular song, so-called art song and gradations in between. Eugene singer Siri Vik recreates the Parisian cabaret vibe, including the breezy chanson, in her Nov. 11 show at the Shedd, featuring accordion (Lou Crist), piano (Nathalie Fortin), bass and violin (Amey Herman and Doug Heydon) in songs made famous by chansonniers like Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour. Berets are optional.
Parisian 1920s cabaret sounds inspired Sergei Prokofiev’s brash Quintet for winds and strings, the featured work on Chamber Music Amici’s Nov. 22 concert at Springfield’s Wildish Theater, which also includes Beethoven’s lovely “spring” violin sonata and a welcome rarity by early 20th century English composer Felix White.
Speaking of chamber music, on Nov. 14, the Oregon Mozart Players’ Chamber Music & Chocolate concert at First Christian Church (1066 Oak St.), which benefits OMP’s music ed outreach program, includes jaunty, witty bassoonatic chamber music by Beethoven, Danzi and two early 20th century composers, Michal Sisak and Bernhard Heiden.
The UO’s Jazz Café creates a cabaret setting, including refreshments, for improvised sounds each term in room 190 of the music school. On Nov. 12, the Café hosts one of today’s most exciting composers, Stephen Vitiello, who brings 21st century tech (live sound processing) to his improvisations. He’ll engage in spontaneous musical conversations with the terrific faculty ensemble Beta Collide (trumpeter Brian McWhorter, flutist Molly Barth and others), then student combos will follow with music by some of the giants of 20th century jazz (Strayhorn, Shorter, Rollins, et al). Speaking of jazz, legendary Portland drummer Mel Brown, who’s worked in the Motown band and those of Motown stars like Smokey Robinson and the Temptations, will drive the school’s jazz ensembles in a concert at Beall Concert Hall on Nov. 19.
That’s part of the university’s flood of performances this month, all at Beall unless otherwise specified. At 3 pm on Nov. 14, the school hosts the Oregon premiere of Portland native Kevin Walczyk’s Symphony #2, “Epitaphs Unwritten,” which commemorates fallen World War II soldiers. The University Symphony plays a splendid program of contemporary music by longtime (and now retired) UO composition professor Hal Owen, 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s deservedly popular “Blue Cathedral” and Haydn’s great Symphony #88. And on Nov. 20, the school’s Future Music Oregon program hosts one of the real legends of electronic music, the much-honored composer John Chowning, in room 163. Chowning’s 1970s research led to the creation of digital synthesizers that changed music history in the 1980s, and his own compositions set the stage for much academic computer music. At Beall that same evening, the Oregon Percussion Ensemble plays music by the great 20th century Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, Gunther Schuller and more.
There’s some good jazz off campus as well. New York composer/trombonist Joe Freuen, who’s worked with Maria Schneider, Dave Liebman and others, has enlisted a host of able local bandmates including Joe Manis, Jesse Cloninger and more for a jazz show at the Granary on Nov. 15. The restaurant also hosts another returnee, Eugene native and Colorado based saxophonist Ricky Sweum, in his original jazz on Nov. 11, backed by local guitar great Mike Denny and others. On Nov. 13, the downtown Jazz Station hosts the excellent progressive jazz composers quartet Chord Four. Swing Shift plays Count Basie’s immortal big band music at Wildish Theater on Nov. 12.